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Moving rules – what are the differences between the constituent parts of the UK?

  1. 12 June 2020
  2. By Daisy Stephens

Reallymoving studies the differences between the different parts of the UK when it comes to moving rules during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock


On Sunday May 10, when Boris Johnson made his televised address to the nation to outline the roadmap out of lockdown, it became clear that the four parts of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – were all following slightly different paths, with the devolved nations largely sticking to more stringent lockdown measures.

While England dropped the stay home message and replaced it with stay alert, the three other parts of the UK didn’t follow. Equally, when the government dramatically green-lighted the reopening of the property market in England on Wednesday May 13, this wasn’t the case for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Here, we outline what the current moving rules are for the different parts of the UK.

England

The property market restarted on May 13, allowing estate agencies to reopen and enabling buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants to resume activity including house moves.

The government amended the Covid-19 regulations to make clear that people who wish to move home can now do so, but guidance was also provided to ensure that moving home could happen safely.

It stressed that this was not a return to normality, with the process of finding and moving into a new home needing to be different for some time to limit the spread of coronavirus. All movers are encouraged to do more of the process online, such as turning to virtual viewings as a first port of call and browsing for property online.

People should only progress to physical viewings when they are serious about the property and likely to make an offer. Sellers should vacate their property whilst buyers are shown around, while also ensuring that their property is thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in.

All parties involved in a housing transaction are encouraged to be as flexible as possible over this period, prepared to delay moves if someone becomes ill with coronavirus or has to self-isolate. The government says it may also become necessary to pause all home moves for a short period of time to manage the spread of coronavirus, if for example a second spike occurs.

You should not expect to move into any home where people have coronavirus or are self-isolating, while those who are shielding because they are clinically vulnerable are advised to consider whether their house move is absolutely necessary. All parties involved in home buying and selling should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.

If a shielded or clinically vulnerable individual has no choice but to move, extra precautionary measures should be implemented and everyone involved in the transaction should be aware of this.

In summary, people are free to move home, but with caveats:
  • Initial viewings should be done virtually wherever possible.
  • All physical viewings should be limited to members of the same household and open house viewings should not take place.
  • People viewing properties in person should avoid touching surfaces, wash their hands regularly, and bring their own hand sanitiser.
  • All internal doors and windows should be opened to improve ventilations. Sellers must ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned after each viewing with standard household cleaning products. Sellers are also advised to vacate for the duration of a viewing.
  • Anyone involved in any aspect of the home moving process should practice social distancing, staying two metres apart where possible.
  • When moving, households should try to do most of the packing. Where this is not possible, speak to removal firms in advance about how this can be carried out safely.
  • Buyers should not travel with their agents to viewings; they should make their own travel arrangements.
  • Conveyancers, surveyors, agents, removal companies and others involved in the process must all adhere to the guidelines at all times.
You can find a detailed breakdown of the government’s advice on moving home in England during coronavirus here.

Scotland

The Scottish Government has taken a much more cautious approach to exiting lockdown, not outlining its route map through and out of the Covid-19 crisis until May 21. In it, supplementary guidance was provided on how phases 1 and 2 of the route map apply to the Scottish housing market.

During phase 1 – which involves preparing for the safe reopening of the housing market – the government’s Covid-19 guidance on moving home (unchanged since 31 March 2020), urging people to delay moving to a new property while stay-at-home measures are in place, remains in force.

According to the government advice, aside from the work needed to progress reasonably necessary home moves, ‘no home visits should take place by any other person or business in relation to anything connected with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of residential property’. 

Nor, the advice adds, should members of the public leave their home to progress any aspect of the purchase, sale, letting or rental of residential property, other than for a reasonably necessary move, as per the guidance of March 31.

That said, the route map outlines that workplaces resuming in later phases of the exit from lockdown are able to carry out preparatory work on physical distancing and hygiene measures. This means organisations and businesses involved in the purchase, sale, letting or rental of homes are allowed to prepare their staff and their premises for the relaxation of restriction on house moves that will come as part of phase 2).  This might include, for example:
  • Undertaking travel to their premises to check for readiness.
  • Making changes to implement their safe operating procedures, such as putting up notices and protective screens, marking distances on the floor.
  • Briefing staff on safe operating procedures, virtually where at all possible to do so.
The Scottish Government’s sector guidance for easing lockdown explains more. Although this isn’t specifically aimed at the housing market, it does outline how physical distancing and good hygiene can be delivered in a range of circumstances.

In phase 2, members of the public will be able to leave their homes in order to conduct certain activities in relation to the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property. This is expected to include:
  • Visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes.
  • Viewing residential properties to look for a property to buy or rent.
  • Preparing a residential property to move in.
  • Moving home.
  • Visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property
The key change here is that a home move will no longer have to be reasonably necessary; all home moves will be permitted, but everyone should still comply with the physical distancing and health guidelines.

The detailed rules for phase 2 are contingent on amendments being made to the Scottish coronavirus restriction regulations. The Scottish Government will also issue revised guidance to replace Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on moving home before phase 2 commences.

The Scottish Government warns that it does not have a specific date for the start of Phase 2 - in order to progress to this stage, it needs strong evidence of transmission being controlled. If the virus remains suppressed, and the evidence allows the government to do so – then gradually, more restrictions will be removed.

Wales

Like Scotland, Wales has chosen to keep more stringent lockdown restrictions for longer and its housing market hasn’t reopened yet. After the UK Government made its announcement on the partial lifting of stay-at-home measures in England, Propertymark received guidance from the Welsh Government about what is and isn’t permitted for agents in Wales.

Wales’ strict stay-at-home regulations, introduced at the end of March, are still in force, meaning that if a moving date can be postponed, it should be.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020) enables people to move house only where the move is not able to be postponed. While agents’ offices remain closed, many are working remotely to provide virtual viewings.

The guidelines are under regular review, with the Welsh Government evaluating them every 21 days and, on the basis of the latest scientific evidence available, seeing whether   they need to stay in place or whether they can be eased.

Following a review on May 7, the regulations were renewed for three weeks. Some very small adjustments – including allowing people to exercise more than once a day and allowing garden centres to reopen - came into force on May 12. Since June 1, restrictions have been eased with people advised that, as long as they stay local to their home and are outside, they will no longer be subject to the numerous restrictions that applied before.

However, there are still restrictions on meeting people and gatherings even within your local area – in particular doing so indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.

You can find the latest guidance here. There is no specific update on moving home or the Welsh property market reopening. Currently, the advice still suggests you can move home in Wales, but only if your moving date can’t be postponed.

Calls have been made to cautiously reopen the Welsh property market following a more than 11-week hiatus.

Northern Ireland

In line with Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland also took a more cautious approach to easing the lockdown, but it has recently been taking the first few steps towards relaxing the restrictions introduced in late March. This is part of the NI Executive’s five-step Pathway to Recovery, which was outlined in May.

On Friday June 12, it was revealed that the housing market in Northern Ireland could resume from Monday June 15, having been in effective pause mode up to that point.

Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland, said when announcing the change: "The real estate industry has the highest multiplier effect in the economy and I'm therefore pleased to announce that our Coronavirus Regulations will be amended to permit house moves for the sale of homes from Monday 15 June."

She added: "This will incorporate the full end-to-end process from viewing to securing a mortgage and the house move itself. Guidance has been provided on all aspects of the house moving process and the Department for Communities plan to engage further with stakeholders."

Trade association Propertymark says it's been working with the NI Executive to guide on the resumption of the market. "We have been developing best practice guidelines which will overlay Executive Guidance. These will be shared exclusively with members in Northern Ireland in the coming days. Up-to-date resources including a Propertymark Covid-19 Checklist for agents and Consumer Guides are already available," a Propertymark statement said.

Please note: This information regarding the moving industry and Covid-19 was accurate at the time of publication (12.06.20 at 16:00 hrs). Government recommended action is changing constantly, and we will endeavour to keep these articles up to date, but please continue to check the government site for updates on home moving during lockdown.
 

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